Planning April 2018


Planning’s Forgotten Minority

America's history — and, by extension, the planning profession's — is riddled with instances in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer people are subjected to prejudice and marginalization. Current literature does not suggest that LGBTQ communities in the U.S. face direct discrimination by planners and local officials. Instead, it is largely a story of neglect. It's time for planners to begin a new chapter by strengthening their understanding of this diverse community and its equally diverse needs.

Al Shehhi is a design and planning manager in the United Arab Emirates. His interests include post-petroleum development in the Arabian Gulf region, mobilities of sexual minorities, and cutting-edge public transportation solutions. Photo courtesy Al Shehhi.

We often fail to plan for the gender, ethnic, and sexual variations within the LGBTQ community and the resulting patterns of spatial variation and discrimination. There is no single LGBTQ identity; individuals of varying genders and sexual orientations might express a desire for a tight-knit, collective community, but in reality, they might live separately from each other. For example, studies indicate that lesbian couples — who are statistically more likely than gay men to have custody of a child — tend to live in neighborhoods with lower rents near schools, reflecting a central focus on family, while gay men are more likely to live elsewhere.

Recent advances in federal policies could bring further complications — and changes — to those needs, and we must prepare for them. The Supreme Court ruling in favor of equal marriage rights will have visible effects on the nature of LGBTQ neighborhoods as it begins to break down entrenched heteronormativity — the presumption of a uniformly heterosexual population — in residential and mixed use neighborhoods. For example, planners must account for the possibility that the court ruling might increase the likelihood of same-sex couples living in single-family homes.

Similarly, if the U.S. Census recognizes same-sex couples in the 2020 count, planners will for the first time ever have access to data that could help them better account for that population. However, planners must be careful to use that data in ways that avoid further excluding LGBTQ people who do not conform to heteronormative roles. Planners must be conscious of variances within sexual orientation and gender, especially when planning for, designing, and implementing policies that affect the public realm, housing, and development.

The planning profession and the LGBTQ community have for too long turned away from one another. There has been a lack of understanding — and in many cases, discrimination — on one side and a dearth of participation on the other. The development of literature discussing LGBTQ issues in planning and integrating that literature into planning curriculums are vital to reversing that trend.

Projects that foster a sense of community and inclusion should also be promoted. This is achievable by deliberate outreach to LGBTQ and advocacy groups, encouraging their participation. Fast-paced, quick-win projects, like pocket parks and LGBTQ-specific community centers that provide safe, public gathering spaces beyond nightclubs and bars — where people don't have to be 21 or over to enter — can act as stepping stones to encourage involvement and give planners some much needed experience working with these populations.

Finally, planners must remember that membership in the LGBTQ community does not negate marginalization on the basis of gender, ethnicity, or income — and that it is our responsibility to make sure the needs that accompany each of these identities are sufficiently planned for.